Where do ancient wisdom, a 21st-century library, Western water law and three hardworking, plucky, snowdrifted souls all creatively join? In Ecotrust’s Copper River, Alaska program, of course. Our Alaska people in Cordova, Talkeetna and Gakona have been buried in the heaviest snow in decades this winter. (See picture at right of a Cordova elementary school playground, where snow piled to the top of the swingset.) But that hasn’t stopped them from forging ahead to grow and protect wellbeing in the one of the most productive watersheds in all of North America.
Knowledge to grow on
A firmly rooted place-based program starts with a wealth of knowledge, and over the last several years the Copper River team has been pulling together everything from narratives of traditional wisdom, fish-run metrics, development plans and microclimate descriptions — all to describe and help people better understand this place on Earth. The result is an interactive, growing virtual library, the Copper River Knowledge System. In one corner, you can visualize the watershed in all its complexity, thanks to a vivid, user-friendly map app created by the Copper River’s GIS specialist Gabe McMahan. In another, hear the fascinating, intricate traditional salmon management techniques of the Ahtna people, indigenous to the region. “There’s a lot to learn from traditional cultures, including the discrete way they measured ecosystem health,” says anthropologist Erica McCall Valentine, who directs the Copper River program. Watch a Copper River history slideshow here.
The Copper River crew builds support for a more natural model of development — one that supports abundant wild salmon runs — before the siren song of heavy industrial-scale dams and mines transfixes the region. Join them and film producers Jim Norton and Steve Hawley this Thursday for a special screening of Salmon: Running the Gauntlet, a cautionary tale about the Columbia River basin and the gauntlet of dams that have devastated that river's salmon runs. The film will show at Anchorage’s Beartooth Theatrepub on Thursday, March 22 at 5:30 p.m.; at The Depot in Palmer on March 24th at 6 p.m.; and at Sheldon Community Arts Hangar in Talkeetna on the 25th at 6 p.m. Watch the trailer here.
Strengthening a niche
Healthy, well-managed fish runs are the Copper River’s competitive advantage on the world market — the river's renowned salmon are worth at least $45 million to the local economy. The Copper River team is working with local tribes, state and federal agencies, and other nonprofits to protect salmon runs, by reserving water rights for fish that will guarantee minimum river flows in the future. And Alaska needs to bring back rigorous validation of its fish management by groups like the Marine Stewardship Council, Copper River science director Allison Bidlack argues in a recent opinion piece in Alaska Dispatch.
Says McCall Valentine: “We need to be constantly asking the in-depth, smart questions about the choices we’re making about our wild resources.”
WHAT WE DO
Ecotrust’s mission is to foster a natural model of development to create more resilient communities, economies, and ecosystems. Learn more —›
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The spring 2012 issue of Edible Portland magazine, published by Ecotrust, is available now!
MARCH 21: River City Confidential: The Willamette River’s Pollution Story Revealed | 7pm @ The Natural Capital Center
MARCH 29: Owyhee Canyonlands – America’s Last Great Wilderness presented by Oregon Natural Desert Association | 6pm @ The Natural Capital Center
APRIL 11: Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Discovering Wildlife Lecture Series: Pacific Lamprey | 6pm @ The Natural Capital Center
Ecotrust hosts over 500 meetings, conferences and parties each year in our building. Book your upcoming event with us!